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Key Largo is the largest island in the upper (northern) Florida Keys archipelago (about 4500 islands in the southeast United States with 1700 of them named streacthced as a string for 113 miles (182 km)). As many other islands, Key Largo it is long (33 miles or 53 km) and narrow. Such shape is explained by the origins Florida Keys which first formed as a corral reef when it was covered by water and later on fossilized, uncovered and eroded. The ocean level is believed to have dropped several hundred feet as a result of the increased ice mass in the Earth polar regions: the process that took place between 125,000 and 20,000 years ago (since then, the polar caps began melting covering some land with water again). Anyway, Key Largo has a distinguishable ridge that follows the shape of the island rising at it maximum height to about 15 feet (4.6 m).
Key Largo is shown on 16th - 17th century Spanish charts as Cayo de Dose Leguas or Cayo Largo. Since the original meaning of cayo in Spanish is a "small island", we can translate the original name as the "Islet of Twelve Leagues" which is actually an accurate description of the island (one league is approximately three miles). It is believed that the word "key" in the current names of many archipelago islands originatd from the Spanish cayo transitioned form the English usage "cay" or "kay". The abbreviated version of Cayo Largo is translated as "Long Key."
From the works of John William Norie (1772 - 1843), a British explorer, we know that at the beginning of 19th century, Key Largo was uninhabited. The first settlement on Key Largo appeared in the Tavernier area at the time of the Civil War. At the time, the largest settlement on Key Largo was called Rock Harbor - in 1870 census the population of Key Largo was 60. Scheduled train service to Florida Keys began in 1908 from Miami with four stations on Key Largo: Tavernier, Rock Harbor, Key Largo and Jewfish Creek (the railroad was destroyed during hurricane in 1935 and never restored). During 1920s Florida land boom, Key Largo experienced some development. However, a significant increase in growth took place in Key Largo only in the 1950s.
Although Key Largo is the name of the island, it is also used to designate two of the three communities located on the island of Key Largo: North Key Largo, Key Largo and Tavernier. These communities are not incorporated municipalities and are governed at the local level by Monroe County, Florida. There is also a well-known private gated community and club called Ocean Reef Club at the northern end of the island.
Tourism and fishing are two major industries flourishing in Key Largo as well as the rest of Florida keys. Keys are especially known for attracting many scuba divers and sport-fishing enthusiasts enjoying living coral reefs just a few miles offshore with good underwater visibility and rich wild life.
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What Makes It Special
Key Largo is a popular tourist destination attracting many thousands of scuba divers and sport-fishing aficionados because the living coral reef a few miles offshore. As one of many Florida Keys, Key Largo is not unique; however, several factors make the island a preferable choice for many visitors:
- In a way, Key Largo is in the center of the action being located very close to Everglades National Park, being a part of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and being a home to two state parks, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in the U.S., It includes about 93 sq. miles (70 nautical sq miles or 240 sq km). Its coral reefs and marine life bring many visitors to the park.
- Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park offers over six miles of nature trails with opportunities for bird-watchers and photographers.
- Everglades National Park is a national park in the U.S. state of Florida that protects about 25% of Everglades. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance. About half of the Everglades National Park's south-east border goes along Key Largo with one mile from the island. Key Largo's proximity to the Everglades makes the island a popular destination for kayakers and eco-tourists.
- Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a U.S. National Marine Sanctuary in the Florida Keys. It includes the Florida Reef, the only barrier coral reef in North America and the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world.
Key Largo's location offers many advantages to visitors: on one hand, it is very close the wilderness of the Everglades National Park to the west. On the other, it offers excellent access to the fish-covered coral formations of North America's only living coral barrier reef to the east. What's more, Key Largo is easily accessible by tourists (see the Directions to destination section below) and has a very well developed infrastructure including accommodations and various services for eco-tourism, snorkeling and diving. Key Largo belongs to the Upper Keys where you will see a lot of dive shops, country clubs, condos for weekend travelers from Miami.
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Directions To Destination
While some visitors arrive via Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon Airport in Marathon (there is no airport on Key Largo), the vast majority of tourists drive down from the mainland on U.S. The main gateway to Florida Keys is the Miami International Airport (IATA: MIA). The airport handles flights from North America, Latin America, and Europe. It is only eight miles (13 km) from Downtown Miami and about 50 miles (80 km) from the center of Key Largo. You need to use a car, bus, shuttle or a boat to reach your destination. If you drive a car, the whole trip may take about 1 hour. Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is another airport you can use to reach Key Largo. The driving distance is about 75 miles (120 km); the trip will take about 2 hours, depending on traffic.
If you like trains, keep in mind that the final stop of Amtrak in Florida is the city of Miami, from there you can transfer to the Key Largo by bus or by car as described in this section.
If you fly into Miami and rent a car to travel to the Florida Keys, take route 836 West to the Florida Turnpike. Take the Florida Turnpike south which merges in Florida City into southbound US Highway 1. US 1 is the only road leading to Key Largo. The road is breathtakingly beautiful; some people are renting convertible cars to enjoy the ride. From Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, exit the airport and follow the signs for 595 West. Take 595 to Florida Turnpike and follow the signs for Florida Keys.
You can use bus as an alternative to renting a car. The Greyhound Keys Shuttle departs from several locations/stops in the Miami area (including Miami International Airport) several times a day to all areas of the Keys. For details, please visit greyhound.com.
There are no ferries going from Miami to Key Largo. The ferry from Miami can take you only to the Key West. But if you have a boat of your own you can navigate along the Atlantic side of the Keys or travel through the Intercostal Waterway to get to Key Largo. The Intercostal Waterway goes along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. It is 3,000 miles (4,800 km) long and starts at the Manasquan River in the state of New Jersey then goes into the Atlantic Ocean at the Manasquan Inlet and then all the way down along the Keys and the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. There are a lot of Marinas where you can moor your boat in Key Largo but in high season it would be prudent to make reservations.
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Best Time To Go
You can go to Key Largo any time all year round. The Florida Keys are affected by the Gulf Stream from the western side and the Gulf of Mexico from the eastern side which let the Keys enjoy a mild tropical-maritime climate with summer and winter temperature difference about 10 ºF (12 ºC). The hottest months are July - with the high temperatures 89 ºF (32 ºC) and August 90 ºF (32.2 ºC). January is the coldest month - about 75 ºF (24 ºC).
The period from December to May is considered to be the best time to travel to the Florida Keys since offers the most pleasant temperatures. March and November are also good for traveling with hotel rates lower than in the most popular season. The period from June to October is the most unpleasant because of humidity and frequent rains. This is also the hurricane period - with ample advance warnings, there is no danger. However, a hurricane can be a serious inconvenience if takes place during your trip.
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Where To Stay
Hampton Inn Key Largo (102400 Overseas Highway, FL 33037 Key Largo), a three star hotel with rates started from $ 143 per room/night (breakfast included; 12.5% tax not included). Located off Highway 1 and three miles from downtown Key Largo. The hotel has private beach and boat dock. There are 100 rooms in the hotel.
Hilton Key Largo Resort (97000 South Overseas Highway, FL 33037 Key Largo), a three star hotel, rates start from $110 per room/night (12.5% tax not included). The hotel is located on the Gulf of Mexico side and offers private beach access. There are 200 rooms in the hotel.
I cannot but mention Jules Undersea Lodge - one of few underwater hotels in the world. To enter the Lodge, guests must scuba dive 21 feet beneath the surface of the lagoon (a natural nursery area for many reef fish) where Jules' is located. Compressed air prevents the water from flooding the rooms of the Lodge. Entering the hotel looks much like surfacing through a small swimming pool in the floor of the building. The air conditioned living space has two private bed rooms (8' x 10') and a common room. Each room has a big 42 inch round window. Jules' Undersea Lodge is located at the bottom of the Emerald Lagoon in Key Largo Undersea Park, Key Largo, Florida (turn on Transylvania Ave. at mile marker 103.2 on the Overseas Highway). The price is $500.00/person per night which includes diving gear, a gourmet dinner, and breakfast in the morning. If you want something special for your honeymoon, the Lodge can be just for two people for $1,295.00/night.
Research and book hotels in or near Key Largo, United States
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Swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, water skiing, fishing
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
The high season in Key Largo is not summer but winter. Keep it in mind if you are looking for saving some money on everything starting with accommodations. Sometimes rates double during the winter season. Key Largo heat is not so pronounced in July and August (low season) because of a cool breeze brought by the Atlantic Golf Stream and that's why it is more pleasant for summer visitors then other places in Florida..
What to see:
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park - the park is open daily from 8:00 AM up to sunset. Park buildings and facilities are open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission fees: $8.00 per vehicle with 2-8 people per vehicle and $4.00 for single-occupant vehicles or motorcycle (add $0.50/person Monroe County surcharge fees). Directions: From Key Largo take US 1 route and follow the signs for the State Park entrance. It will be at the mile pole 102.5. The Visitor Center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and nature videos are shown in its theater. Full-facility campsites are available. Beach wheelchairs are available without cost.
- The Spiegel Grove, the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, a Navy ship sunk on purpose in June 2002 to create a base for a new coral reef. The USS Spiegel Grove is 510 feet (160 m) long and 84 feet (26 m) wide; it was decommissioned in 1989. The ship was sunk on Dixie Shoal, 6 miles (10 km) off the Florida Keys in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In June 2002 the site was opened to recreational divers. The wreck of the ship is located on a considerable depth which requires an advanced diving certification from divers.
- If you like fishing you can hire Sailors Choice, a custom built all aluminum 65 feet long party boat moored in Holiday Inn Marina of Key Largo. It offers three 4-hour trips to the fishing areas in the Atlantic Ocean on daily bases starting from 9:00 AM, the price is $40 per person.
- Dolphins Plus - a sea park is located on a canal connected to the Atlantic Ocean. A natural habitat for Atlantic dolphins and California sea lions is recreated in the park. The visitors are invited to swim with dolphins and sea lions as well as to watch, learn and participate in different educational and health programs. Opening hours: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM. Admission fees: $10 per adult, $5 per child (7 - 17 years old). For more details please visit Dolphins Plus web site.
- Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park offers over six miles of self-guided nature walks with opportunities for bird watchers and photographers. Most of the park´s trails are paved and accessible to both bicycles and wheelchairs. Address: County Road 905, Key Largo, Florida 33037 (approximately 0.5 miles north of County Road 905's intersection with U.S. Highway 1 at Mile Marker 106).
Remember that Key Largo is located in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and certain activities are prohibited. They include:
- Removing, taking, spearing, or otherwise damaging any coral, marine invertebrate, plant, soil, rock, or other material is prohibited. Commercial taking of spiny lobster and stone crab by trap and recreational taking of spiny lobster by hand or hand gear are allowed.
- Spearfishing and possession of spearfishing equipment is prohibited (except while passing through without interruption).
For more details see NOAA Florida Keys National Marine web site.
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